Eight Touchstones for a Loving Sexual Relationship

IMG_2587Sex is a common source of anxiety for many couples. Plagued by the world of “shoulds” that permeates our mindsets regarding love and relationships, most people carry a host of unrealistic expectations into their sex lives.When sex fails to live up to the impossible ideal, you may assume that there’s something wrong with your relationship or that you’re with the wrong partner. “Sex should be effortless,” the media says. “You should have wild chemistry right from the start,” Hollywood espouses. These are among the many lies that seep into our consciousness and can have a deleterious effect on our sex lives.

The truth is that sex is complicated. It touches on our most vulnerable places in every area of self: emotional, psychological, physical, and spiritual. Few people begin their relationships with a clean slate but arrive with negative experiences around sex, early trauma, and/or erroneous beliefs that color their sexuality. The bedroom is often the place where the past collides with the present, so it would make sense that it isn’t always the smoothest ride. If you struggle with sex, you’re far from alone, and the following touchstones can help you navigate these tender places with more gentleness, honesty, and compassion.

1. Communicate Sensitively

I can’t tell you the number of clients who have said to me, “I don’t like kissing my partner because his kisses are too wet but I don’t want to say anything because I don’t want to hurt his feelings.” Since avoiding kissing can also hurt his feelings, I encourage my clients to sensitively communicate how they feel.” Without fail, the partner is grateful that she’s spoken up and the entire relationship can shift from this one simple change.

Likewise, if your partner is going too fast, for example, it’s okay to say, “Slow down, honey.” The key is to communicate gently and with love and keep in mind that sex is just as vulnerable for your partner as it is for you.

2. Take the Pressure Off of Frequency

Our culture says that you must be having sex 2-3 times a week to qualify for the healthy sex life category. Past the initial honeymoon stage, very few couples actually have sex 2-3 times a week, especially when children enter the picture. If the frequency of your sexual encounters works for you, then it’s healthy for your relationship. As there’s usually a high-drive and a low-drive partner, it’s not likely that your needs will align perfectly. This is where communication comes in, where you both sensitively work to attend to the others’ needs. It may seem impossible when needs are radically different, but in the pool of loving communication and intention nothing is impossible.

3. Focus on Connection Instead of Outcome

We are an outcome-obsessed culture, and when it comes to sex that means that we place a very high premium on intercourse and orgasms. The truth is that a great sex life isn’t dependent on intercourse and orgasms and when we focus too much on the end result we lose connection to the process.

There are two interwoven rivers of feeling during sex: connection and sensation. When you focus only on sensation, it’s easy to disconnect from the emotional connection and become single-mindedly focused on orgasm. For many women, having an orgasm requires so much focus, including closing their eyes and escaping into fantasy, that they almost forget who they’re having sex with! While there’s no problem with this, it can also be satisfying to open your eyes – both literally and metaphorically – and bring your attention back to the emotional connection with your partner.

4. Notice and Name Your Walls

We all have walls around our  bodies and hearts; it’s part of being human and it’s very easy for these walls to emerge around our sexuality because it’s one of our move vulnerable areas. When these walls arises, the most common response is to try to ignore them. But if you find the courage to say to your partner, “My wall is up and I need your help crossing over it,” miracles can happen.

In order to name the wall, you first need to identify that the wall is up. Most people have telltale signs in their body when they’re closed off: tightness in the chest, heavy hands, tingly legs, and, for those prone to relationship anxiety, the almost knee-jerk desire to push their partner as far away as possible. If you allow your anxiety to sidle into the driver’s seat, you’ll end up withdrawing from your partner further. But when you take responsibility for your walls by noticing them and naming them, you create the opportunity for the two of  you to move closer together. 

5. Get to Know Your Sexual Cycles

Sexuality ebbs and flows, just like everything else in life. There will days, weeks, or even seasons where you feel more or less sexual; that’s normal. While men’s hormones are entering their systems at a steady rate day or night, women’s hormones fluctuate radically. Some women feel more sexual in the morning; others at night. Many women experience heightened sexuality before and during ovulation; other women notice higher drive around their period. When you pay attention to your body, you’ll start to notice patterns. These patterns can bring increased awareness to your sexuality.

6. View Sex as an Offering

I often hear women say, “Sometimes I have sex even when I don’t feel like it because it feels important for the relationship. Is that okay?” Yes, not only is it okay, if it’s done with loving intention then it’s a loving action that can help fill the relationship well. And, most times, women also say, “And even when I don’t feel like doing it initially, afterwards I’m always glad that I did.” As I mentioned, women aren’t typically as hormonally primed to have sex as men are (and this certainly isn’t a global truth), so it may take more effort to “get into the mood.” But what serves the third body of the relationship will also serve each of you as individuals, and if you view sex as an offering it can help lift you out of the mindset that you’re only doing it for him.

7. Lower Your Expectations

Sometimes the sex will be great; other times not so great. Sometimes you’ll feel completely present, passionate, and alive; other times you’ll be thinking that you need to add apples to your shopping list. Sometimes your body will respond effortlessly to your partner’s touch; other times you’ll need to communicate more because the flow isn’t quite happening. If you approach sex with the expectation that it has to be fantastic every time, you’re setting both of you up for disappointment, shame, and self-judgement. But if you recognize that there’s a natural arc to your sexuality, it lets both of you off the hook and frees you up to have a more positive experience.

8. Allow Your Sexual Connection to Infuse Your Relationship

Sexuality doesn’t only exist within the confines of the bedroom. When your heart and body are open to each other, partners communicate sexually throughout the day in a variety of ways: through loving touch, tender kisses, flirtatious words. By keeping these channels open, when you next meet in the bedroom you’re not starting the momentum from zero but are continuing a connection that has been kept alive in between each rendezvous.

Similarly, we tend to think that sex is only touching and having actual sex, but when you widen your definition of sex you’ll see that it can be much more than this. Taking a loving shower together can be sexual (even if you don’t actually have sex). Kissing passionately on the couch for a few minutes before bedtime can be sexual. The point is the sexual connection, not necessarily the acts themselves.

While having a strong sexual relationship isn’t essential to a healthy marriage, it certainly doesn’t hurt. Many couples feel that their shared sexuality is like a love-gel that helps bond them in a sacred and special way. Following these touchstones can help you keep this connection healthy and loving for years to come.

If you’re struggling with relationship anxiety and sense that fear has clouded your vision of your partner and doused your sex drive, you may want to consider joining my upcoming course, “Open Your Heart: A 30 day program to feel more love and attraction for your partner.” And even if you never felt the “spark” to begin with but you have a loving foundation, the love and attraction can be cultivated. 

21 comments to Eight Touchstones for a Loving Sexual Relationship

  • hopeful

    Sheryl!!! You know this speaks to me! Bookmarked!!

  • EmilyClaire

    Can you comment more on your statement that a strong sexual connection isn’t essential to a healthy marriage? In my experience, sexless marriages are not often happy ones, or at best they are platonic partnerships, but not very romantic. Of course we need to lower many of our expectations around sex, but can no sex really work? (I realize that at a certain age people often stop having sex, but this is different for me than when you are in your more sexual years.)

    • I’ve worked with clients where both people naturally had a low sex drive. They were affectionate with each other and happy in the marriage but the sexual energy was dim. If it works for both people it can work for the relationship and doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be an unhappy marriage. Does that make sense?

      • EmilyClaire

        Yeah, I guess if both people have a low sex drive there’s no reason to make that couple feel like they “have to” have sex. I guess I always associated sexless with “cold,” but it is possible to have love and affection, even romance, without sex. Makes sense. But its sure not my relationship. 😉

  • Tam

    Oh Sheryl! Sometimes I am in awe of how you can read exactly what’s on my mind but then I’m comforted by the idea that my fears are so common! I love the idea of giving sex as an offering, I’ve been doing that lately and it always gives a great outcome. I remember this one time when I didn’t feel like it but my partner did and I just looked at this man that I loved so much and whom gives me such love and care so how can I not offer him such a loving act? I guess that’s what true love is!

    Thank you thank you thank you!

  • Sharan

    It’s like you read my mind Sheryl! I think of a “problem” and you produce a wonderful article like this. I was just wondering though, if you are feeling anxious the last thing you want to do is have sex! So should you work through that and do it anyway even though it feels wrong? Or is it ok to say “i can’t have sex right now” to your partner. I wonder if subtly that’s the wounded self avoiding sex because its so intimate, or whether you’re just being honest (i think for me it is more avoidance!). Hope that makes sense!

  • Me myself and I

    How do you connect to passion during kissing and lovemaking?

  • Rae

    Sheryl:

    What a lovely post, and something society doesn’t talk about openly enough. We can all benefit from reminders that, like everything else in life, fantasies and expectations around sex cause us to miss the point of sexual connection. Thanks for helping me see that it isn’t about the end result or even a right/best fit. It is literally about being there naked, literally and figuratively, with my partner who sees my soul and whose soul I see back, sharing a very special connection. When performance pressure is removed by letting go of all the “should’s,” anxiety takes a hike….preferably a long one! 😉

  • Anon

    Sheryl, thank you for this timely post. You talk about women who have trouble reaching orgasm, but my partner, who is male, often has trouble reaching orgasm. This touches on his insecurities about masculinity and my insecurity about not being able to please him and all kinds of other stuff. It’s been very stressful. Your perspective would be very appreciated.

    • I actually had men in mind when I wrote this article as what you’re describing is more common than one would think. If you take the focus off of orgasm and instead focus on connecting sexually in other ways it will bring more peace and fulfillment to both of you.

  • This is such a great article. I especially love, viewing sex as an offering – bringing the soul into it.

    Sheryl, I got married in 2007 and your Conscious Bride book as my guide through that transition. Your wisdom is something I treasure to this day during that beautiful, but stressful time in my life. Not sure why it took me so long to find you online, but so delighted to see your soulful writing tonight.

    Endless Gratitude,
    Maggie

  • Simon

    Sheryl,

    I just wanted to say what a wonderful source of comfort your writings have been for me. I live in London, and I’ve read much of your online advice, from various sources. So many of them have rung true and really helped me and my relationship. Thank you so much!!! What a wonderful presence you bring to the world,

    All the best
    Simon

  • Kathy

    I am currently battling a lot of relationship anxiety.
    Our sex life (from the beginning) has never made me happy. It’s the furthest thing from frequent and he has, more often than not, erectile issues.
    I love him, and our relationship is perfect outside of this issue…..but it’s a huge issue. I guess my question comes down to, could this be the center of my anxiety/depression towards him?

    • The sexual issues are not likely at the center of your anxiety and depression. The way you know this is to ask yourself, “Is the first time I’ve experienced anxiety/depression in my life?” And even if it is, an anxious response to a real issue is coming from your Wounded Self, not your Loving Adult who would take loving action on your behalf and for the relationship.

      • kathy

        Once I get to the root of my issues, will it be an “ah-ha” moment? Because I’m scrapping the barrel here in therapy and all I keep saying to myself is “well I guess I really don’t love him.”

  • M

    I feel the same way Kathy. Searching for a way to feel what I once felt and I’m scraping as well! My sex drive has been down for a while and I get so upset that I can’t get aroused that I feel like maybe I’m not attracted anymore. I’ve had problems with sex for a long time even before I started having anxiety attacks.

  • MollyBee

    Hi Sheryl and fellow posters,

    My anxiety around sex with my fiance is a little different than what was explained in the article… When we were first together (honeymoon phase) we had a LOT of sex. As time has gone on – and after moving in together – we have sex way less frequently. We still have sex about twice a week (I know, that’s still a lot) and we’re still very affectionate, but his sex drive and desire for me seems to have waned a lot. I’M the one who has the higher sex drive, and I also crave it as a connection and validation of our love. I think maybe my anxiety contributes to me “needing” it so much. We’ve talked about it a lot, and I think he feels pressured and that’s making the situation worse. Any advice or words of encouragement? Thanks! PS…I’m new and JUST signed up for the Wedding E-course!

  • Katie

    MollyBee,

    I realize this is 3 months after you wrote your post, but I just wanted to share my thoughts with you and whoever else may be in a similar situation. I too am experiencing a similar situation (recently engaged, had a honeymoon period where we had sex very frequently, etc.) and noticed that things have slowed down in that department since we moved in together. I know all about worrying about the frequency of our sex life and questioning if we were truly “in love” based on sex. One thing I’ve found is that when I focus more on our deeper connection that the sex just seems to be more enjoyable and meaningful. Also, the frequency has nothing to do with how my fiance feels about me!! Life is incredibly tiresome (working all week, not getting enough sleep…) In my experience, the whole “we need to have sex a certain # of times a week” thing is just a projection of my own anxiety. I used to worry about it constantly and it would cause us to fight. I’ve been working on that and found that our sex life is much more rewarding as a result! 🙂 If you are happy with your relationship, that’s all that really matters. Anyway, best of luck to you and your fiance!! 🙂 Happy wedding planning 🙂

  • MollyBee

    Thanks, Katie! I was just reading through this blog post again because we had a little issue around sex last night… and then I saw your response! How timely! It’s so good to know that other women have experienced this. We’re so brainwashed to believe that men are “supposed” to want it all the time, that it can trigger our WS when this is not always the case. But I get what you’re saying and completely agree that the more I can deal with my WS and refrain from projecting onto my partner, the better! Thanks for your kind words 🙂